But when push came to shove, even I would have gotten away from my nature if I didn’t find a profound tidbit of truth in Gwynn’s assessment. After all, I did find baseball an escape of sorts. It was where I could be blank by turning off my mind—an elusive state for the son of a psychiatrist and a mathematician. Calculations and analysis were my life; yet baseball had always been my escape, my pod of animal instinct, the place where I needed neither explanations nor theories. I could just be blank, if I so chose.

This had worked well as a Little Leaguer, when I was happy to be a minion of my brother’s loving biddings. Rain, snow, or sleet I was outside playing with big Ken to master the art of throwing a wiffle-ball slider or the Tony Campbell screwball. To buck conventional technology even further, I showed up in my first Little League season as a member of Joey’s Children’s Wear carrying not the then-prevalent aluminum bat but a wooden one, part of Ken’s master plan to create a Major League environment from jump. I guess he knew what he was doing.

Minds were simpler back then and with each passing year, blank became less and less of a possibility. I was clouded in high school with crushes on Christine Saunders—or what the scouts were going to write. I was clouded in college by the need to keep grades up in my Systems classes or by wondering whether going to the Olympic trials was a good career move. I was clouded by long bus rides from home and jealous yet innocent hearts in the minor leagues. I was clouded as a big-leaguer by the weight of being productive—and some more important personal issues, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But with the right training, with the right state of being, blank can be found again in an instant. It happens with the euphoria of doing what you love to do, the knowledge that big brother would be proud, that bragging rights would abound for beating up fellow New Jerseyan and New York Met Al Leiter in yet another mano a mano exchange, or it could just happen because of the silence that emanated from Montreal’s Stade Olympique and the Expos’ dwindling, dispirited fan base.

The training was nothing special, really. At Penn I ignored the suggestion of my teammate Anthony Feld W’92 to perform eye drills at home before a game. He would tie a string to a doorknob and use it to create a sight line. I was impressed by his diligence, yet as an engineer, shockingly, I thought it to be mechanizing a natural state. It was then I realized that I went to baseball to be blank, more than anything else.

One year I did employ some eye-switching techniques to avoid focusing for too long on the pitcher or his arm slot. There is a lot of staring in baseball, a necessary lack of etiquette to hone in on the opposing pitcher or the catcher’s glove. After a thousand games of these hyper-focused moments, you have long gotten tired of staring. Gone was the seductive allure of the hitter-pitcher mini-game that had beckoned our eyeballs. We were now looking at sex appeal past its prime. To keep it fresh and to endure another contest to find out whether pitcher or hitter would blink first, we needed to find a momentary diversion. We moved our eyes for a split second, an act that would reset our thoughts and refresh our focus, and in those breaks, we found our lost concentration.

I put all those techniques together in 1999 when, as the centerfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, I sliced and diced my way through the National League with 204 hits. It got to the point where I could almost project when I would get a hit. I was a first-round draft pick, and I was on my way. The curve would just keep going up. More hits, fun year in and year out, bigger paydays. This game is easy!

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FEATURE: Desperately Seeking Blank By Doug Glanville
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